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Are sinus rinses safe and effective?

Safety depends on the source of the water that’s used.

Are nasal rinses safe to use, or are there risks?

“Nasal rinsing devices, which include bulb syringes, squeeze bottles, battery operated pulsed water devices and neti pots are generally safe when properly used and cleaned,” says Chen Xie, M.D., a board-certified Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic.

“Most important is the source of water that is used with nasal rinsing devices. Tap water that is not filtered, treated or processed in specific ways is not safe for use as a nasal rinse,” Dr. Xie warns.

Some tap water contains low levels of organisms, such as bacteria and protozoa, including amoebas, which may be safe to swallow in drinking water because stomach acid kills them. But these “bugs” can stay alive in nasal passages and cause potentially serious infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Only use distilled or sterile water, which you can buy in stores, or boiled and cooled tap water. 

Previously boiled water can be stored in a clean, closed container for use within 24 hours. Follow the device manufacturer’s directions for use. Wash the device with distilled, sterile or boiled and cooled tap water, and then dry the inside with a paper towel or let it air dry between uses.

Dr. Xie says used properly, nasal rinsing can remove dirt, dust, pollen and other debris, as well as help to loosen thick mucus. It can also help relieve nasal symptoms of allergies, colds and flu. Recent studies indicate, however, that long-term use of a nasal rinsing device with a saline solution may make you more susceptible to infections.

“Talk to your doctor to determine if nasal rinsing will be safe and effective for your condition,” says Dr. Xie. “Be sure to alert your doctor if you experience fever, nosebleed or headaches while using a nasal rinse.”

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Chen Xie, MD

​My philosophy of care is to provide the highest quality care possible with the utmost compassion for my patients.